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CAP California Wing Encampment
The Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, Encampment is an eight day training week used to teach basic cadets drill and teamwork. Encampment lasted from the 2nd through the 9th of August and was held at the National Guard Base in San Luis Obispo (SLO). Preparation for encampment started weeks in advance when I received my acceptance letter with a packet of information containing an equipment list and the SOP or standard operating procedures. On the morning of the first day of encampment, which was the day before my birthday, I awoke at 5am and completed my final preparations before encampment. When I finished I went down stairs and my dad asked, “Well, big day huh? Are you excited?” I just grunted and thought to myself no, not really. “Just remember it’s all just a game and it’s all in your head,” he lectured me like he had a thousand times before. I can still remember the sick feeling in my stomach when I loaded my bags in the back of the truck at 6:30am to leave with my mom to meet with a carpool, I would ride with other cadets down to camp SLO. When I arrived at the carpool which was the parking lot in front of Raley’s in El Dorado Hills there was great tension in the air. None of the cadets spoke.
I looked at mom and said, “Bye, see ya in a week” I said to my mom as I hopped in the van and we left for SLO. While in the van we studied our training manuals for a few hours before stopping at In â€˜N’ Out for lunch. I could feel my nervousness begin to fade as I ate my burger and fries. I felt calm for the next few hours, but when I saw the sign “San Louis Obispo next exit” my nervousness and anxiety returned. One cadet was so nervous he felt sick. “Here, just don’t throw up on your uniform,” I said as I handed him an In â€˜N” Out bag.
When we arrived at the camp we unloaded out of the van and around us were hills with few trees and old army helicopters and other vehicles that sat rusting in an old parking lot. As soon as all of us were out of the van we unloaded our luggage then checked in at in processing. After in processing with a group of 20 other cadets I marched down to the barracks and had a meeting with the Cadet Training Group commander. “What you are receiving is your basic cadet contract” said cadet major Ann Marie Theisen as she handed out pieces of paper to everyone in the room. “Everyone please read the first bullet point” after a short pause she continued “Now underline â€˜consistently performing to the highest standard’.” We continued this process for every bullet point, underlining things and crossing others out and rewording. “Sergeant Major,” said the major when she had finished what she had to.
“ROOOM!!! TEEENCH-HUT!” blasted the Sergeant Major Cadet Chief Master Sergeant James Lesslie. The sergeant major began barking orders. “Alright you cadets have five seconds to get all of your contracts in one NEAT pile on this chair with your pens in the box beside it and then get in a single file line beginning three feet from this door.” He pointed to a large green metal door at the back of the room. “GO NOW! FIVE…FOUR…THREE…TWO…” not even half the cadets had finished putting their contracts on the chair “ONE YOU’RE DONE! STOP NOW!” Everyone in the room froze and stood at attention. “WHAT IS WRONG!? I GAVE YOU PLENTY OF TIME. Those of you who still have your contracts and pens, put them where they need to go and GET IN A SINGLE-FILE LINE NOW!” So all those who had their contracts and pens shuffled around each other to try and get in line as quick as possible. and when they were all done the sergeant major walked to the large green door in the back. “I WANT YOU ALL OUT OF THIS ROOM NOW! MOVE…MOVE…MOVE…GET OUT!” he said to every basic as they ran out the room, and he pushed them out the door.
After our class with the CTG commander we made our way to our barracks. The barracks buildings were large, light brown, two-story buildings where I reported into my flight sergeant and flight commander. A few hours later we marched to chow which gave us no break from the yelling and was just another “training opportunity.” After chow we made our way back to our barracks. Along the way I tried to look at my surroundings, which was difficult standing at attention and looking straight ahead. But I could see that a lot of the buildings on base were old, the paint was flaking, some boards on the buildings were cracked, and the roofing was made of red tile or wood. I noticed dirt, gravel roads, and dead grass. When we made it back to our barracks we learned to make our racks and roll our socks and t-shirts to the encampment standard, which was set high. The whole flight was required to work as a team, and eventually the entire CTG also had to accomplish the task of meeting the encampment standard.
The next day, or my birthday, we were woken up at 6am for morning Physical Training. PT is usually a good time to develop team work because cadets motivate each other as exercises get tougher. but at encampment we didn’t even know each other’s names yet, so we could not motivate each other. After PT we got dressed in our Battle Dress Uniforms (BDU’s) and marched to chow for breakfast. After chow the daily schedule consisted of classes, drill time, more classes, lunch, inspection preparation, dinner, inspection, and finally personal prep time that cadets used to remake their racks and re-roll shirts and socks which were usually unrolled and tossed across the room during an inspection. During the second day no one helped one another in preparation for our first inspection. “Hey would you help me with my hospital corners?” one cadet would ask another.
“Not right now I have to finish mine” another cadet would respond. Everyone wanted to make sure they passed the inspection.
During inspection time the flight sergeant and commander walked in the room and immediately started yelling at the first cadet they came to. “HOW ARE YOU TONIGHT CADET?” they would ask “IS THIS RACK ENCAMPMENT STANDARD?” I knew none of us had met the encampment standards. People still had shirts and socks to be rolled and laid out on their racks. The white sheets under our blankets looked like the ocean in a severe storm. The whole chain of command had not been memorized by any cadet, and being quizzed on memory work was also part of the inspection. Throughout the entire inspection the flight sergeant and flight commander yelled and screamed at cadets. “LOOK AT THIS RACK IT IS A MESS THE WRINKLES ARE AWFUL AND WHERE ARE YOUR HOSPITAL CORNERS?”
Cadets were so shocked at the behavior of the staff that they couldn’t speak to save their lives. If the staff found a rack that looked decent or had something that looked good, they would question the cadet on why he did not help the others in his flight. After the inspection was over our bay looked like a category five hurricane had come through.
The next day we followed the same routine: wake up, PT, chow, classes,… except when we prepared for our inspection. Instead of worrying about ourselves, we helped those across from us and next to us. We quizzed each other on memory work, which were definitions and oaths and the chain of command. When inspection time came the staff made their entrance as they had last night but this time we were prepared and able to answer the staff’s questions. “The inspection was far from perfect but a great improvement from last night,” said my flight commander. Our next inspection was even better. I heard more compliments than corrections from staff. These compliments, at least for me, motivated me and made me want to do better. The next day we ran the confidence course, which was an obstacle course where each member of each flight had to help their fellow cadets over each obstacle by saying things that were motivational or pushing them up over a wall during the obstacle course. My flight began to come together as a team. We helped each other up when we fell, and we did not move on to the next obstacle until everyone had made it over the present one. When the o-course had begun Charlie flight, my flight, was not motivated. We had an upcoming squadron inspection where the squadron commander and first sergeant would inspect each flight to see how they were progressing. Fearing that we would fail this inspection we lost all motivation, but with the completion of the o-course and dirt on our teeth, face, and uniforms, we regained all of our motivation and plus more.
The results first squadron inspection went well, not as well as we had hopped but there was improvement in the teamwork of the flight. Next our help extended to other flights. We would instead not only work on the hospital corners of the cadet next to us but also those of a cadet who was upstairs or nextdoor. In the second squadron inspection the squadron commander and first sergeant, just like the flight sergeant and commander had done, shouted more compliments than corrections.
The next day we awoke with a new found confidence. Outside the morning was cold and smelled of sea salt but there was something different about this day. This day was the final day of encampment. We had one more inspection and would be inspected by the sergeant major and CTG commander. They would not only inspect us, they would inspect all nine flights in the CTG. Each cadet would have to help the person next to him, up stairs, nextdoor, and in addition the cadets in the next building. This inspection would require every cadet, flight, and squadron to come together as a CTG. After PT we ate breakfast and were then given hours to prepare for the group inspection. Cadets were running from bay to bay and building to building helping other cadets. When it was time for the group inspection I could hear outside my bay “Is your squadron prepared for inspection?” the CTG commander questioning the squadron commander. They first went to the bay next to us, I was surprised, their was no yelling which calmed me down and I am sure the other cadets in my flight as well. When the sergeant major and CTG commander inspected our bay they briefly looked at our racks and wall lockers and moved on. After the group inspection there was a test and then a party which was a reward for our week’s worth of hard work.
During encampment every cadet learned that nothing can be done as an individual and that it takes a team working hard together to accomplish even the simplest of tasks. When I arrived at camp SLO the first day I was yelled at, chewed out, and spat on I felt worthless and alone but as the week progressed I became part of a team that worked together. The major lesson that I took away from encampment is, again, nothing can be done as an individual and I can now function as an effective member of a team whether it be on a sports team, in a class room or where ever.